Risks 457 - 22 May 2010

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards Magazine
Hazards at Work

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 18,000 subscribers and 1,500 on the TUC website. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer and Privacy

Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]

Union News

Reps told to be wary of BS

The TUC is warning union reps to be on the lookout for behavioural safety (BS) schemes that pin the blame for injuries and illness at work on 'unsafe acts' by workers. The union body says the schemes - which also go by the name of 'behavioural modification' or 'behaviour based safety' - require that 'management should target specific behaviours and aim to change these based on observing and monitoring workers.' TUC's new online guide adds: 'Many behavioural safety programmes also are linked to punishing 'bad' behaviour, such as if a worker has an injury or rewarding 'good behaviour' such as an 'accident free' period.' TUC says a claim by firms selling behavioural safety programmes that almost all injuries result from unsafe acts by workers 'is disputed by almost all other health and safety practitioners who say that the main cause of injuries is failings in the management of health and safety, and that you cannot simply classify an injury as being caused by one single cause, as normally it will be caused by multiple factors that result from a failure to implement a safe system of working.' The TUC guide adds: 'According to the HSE, 70 per cent of workplace deaths and injuries are caused by management failures.' The guide concludes: 'As behavioural safety focuses on the end point of a chain of events that lead to a worker doing something, it does not address the question of who makes the decisions about work speeds, productivity levels, shift patterns and how they relate to safety. For unions, the decisions made at boardroom level can have much more effect on injury rates than what individual workers do... It is not worker behaviour that should be the focus of action to improve safety but management behaviour, because management are in control of work and the workplace.'

Industrial action threat at Tube Lines

London Underground union RMT this week started a ballot for industrial action by members employed by Tube Lines. It says the move is in response to a continuing threat to jobs and safe working conditions and in support of a decent pay increase. RMT says that although Transport for London (TfL) announced this month that it is buying out the Tube Lines operation, the company will still exist as a separate legal entity and the threat to jobs, conditions and pay remains in place. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'We have made it perfectly clear to Transport for London that we do not expect our members to take the hit for the final collapse of the disastrous tube privatisation experiment.' He added: 'We have sought concrete assurances that staff will not be expected to pay off the Tube Line's exit costs in job losses, attacks on safe working conditions and an undermining of pay rates. Those assurances have not been forthcoming so we have no option but to ballot for action in defence of our members.' He said the union was available for talks. The ballot will close on 1 June.

Payout after seven floors plunge

A civilian worker with the police who was in a workplace lift that plunged seven floors to the ground has received a 'substantial' sum in compensation. The PCS member, who works for the Metropolitan Police in London and whose name has not been released, suffered from neck and back pain as a result of the incident in May 2008. She was using the lift to reach the 8th floor in the Victoria Building of New Scotland Yard in London when, having let out a passenger on the 7th floor, the lift plunged to the ground at speed. The lift's intercom and alarm system also failed. The impact caused neck and back injuries and also led to the PCS member requiring treatment for an anxiety disorder after she was left with a fear of getting in lifts. She said: 'Being stuck in a lift which is plummeting to the ground is most people's worst nightmare. To then find that the alarm and intercom had failed and we were trapped inside the lift was terrifying. It wasn't until we were released that I realised the extent of my injuries. Not only have I had to have treatment for severe back pain but I've also had to undergo counselling to get over a new fear of lifts.' The police admitted liability and settled the claim out of court. Andy Thomas, PCS negotiations officer, said: 'This lift is used by hundreds of people every day and they trust that it is in good order. Sadly this employer failed to keep this lift in a fit state of repair.'

UCATT calls for more site protection

Construction union UCATT has vowed to keep the pressure on government over blacklisting and bogus self-employment. Delegates at the union's conference this week were told that the two issues were the scourge of the industry, reports the Morning Star. The union was critical of the blacklisting regulations that took effect in March because they failed to outlaw the 'despicable' practice of blacklisting. UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said: 'The regulations are so weak that they do not stamp out blacklisting once and for all. The government listened to those who had been conducting the blacklisting more than it did us.' While the union had failed to have the regulations tightened, he said there were positives in that blacklisting firm The Consulting Association had been shut down and anti-blacklisting legislation was now on the statute books. The union also welcomed proposals in a recent government consultation document that would deem all self-employed construction workers to be employees unless they supplied their own materials, own plant or supplied other workers. An estimated 400,000 workers are registered as falsely self-employed, often as a way of firms keeping down their employers' national insurance liabilities.

Other news

Action needed on commercial fishing deaths

Britain's top marine accident investigator has criticised lax attitudes to safety after the deaths of three fishermen in a two week period. The death rate among fishermen was 'consistent and disproportionate,' the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) said.

It added a coherent and properly resourced plan for reducing fishing deaths should be developed. Announcing the findings of investigations into the three deaths, MAIB chief inspector Stephen Meyer said they showed the need for safety improvements in the industry. He added that MAIB's November 2008 recommendations for a plan to curb fatalities at sea had still not been acted on. The MAIB chief said: 'Three fatal accidents, in a very short period of time, provide a powerful illustration of the dangers faced by UK fishermen. The fact that all three deaths occurred when the victims either slipped or were dragged overboard by fishing gear also casts a spotlight on sub-optimal working practices and attitudes to occupational safety that seem to be the norm for some in the industry. Special attention must be given to improving fishermen's safety awareness and understanding of the risks posed by their workplace if occupational accidents, including cases of man overboard, are to be reduced.' Commenting on MAIB's November 2008 recommendations, which called on the Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to agree a plan for reducing the numbers of fatalities at sea, he said: 'A holistic plan has still not been developed.' Annual workplace fatality figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) do not include deaths investigated by MAIB. MAIB's 2009 Safety Digest records 121 fishing vessel deaths in the 10 years from 1999 to 2008.

Fishing boat firm fined following fall

A Scarborough fishing boat operator has been fined after an electrician suffered serious injuries when he fell from a ladder while aboard the company's boat. Contractor Philip Parcell, 53, from Newby, broke his back in three places, fractured his skull in two places and sustained nerve damage to the left side of his face after plummeting between decks of the Our Julia when it was moored in Scarborough harbour on 16 July last year. Scarborough Magistrates heard that Cayton-based Our Julia Ltd, which owns the boat, failed to provide a suitable ladder for Mr Parcell to descend between decks as he fitted new bilge alarms. The court also heard that the company's managing director Nick Polihronos positioned the unsafe ladder. Mr Parcell has been forced to give up work as an electrician as a result of the fall. Our Julia Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The company was fined £7,000 and ordered to pay £2,028 costs. After the hearing HSE inspector Paul Newton said: 'The injuries Mr Parcell sustained from his fall aboard Our Julia were horrific and they could have been prevented.'

RAF painter disabled by solvents

A services painter who was left with a devastating degenerative neurological condition after he was exposed to dangerous toxins while working in 'Victorian conditions' has won his 17-year battle for compensation. Shaun Wood, 52, was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy-P (MSAP), a Parkinson's type condition which affects the nervous system, after exposure to a cocktail of solvents as a painter and finisher at RAF sites across the world. There is no cure for the condition which has left him needing to use a wheelchair. The High Court in Middlesbrough upheld his claims that he was exposed to dangerous chemicals at work and they caused his condition. He is likely to be awarded substantial compensation at a later hearing. He had joined the military from school in 1975. His job involved painting aircraft and motor vehicles, which led to exposure to solvents including trichloreoethylene and dichloromethane for sometimes in excess of 12 hours a day, particularly in the lead up to the first Gulf War. He was medically discharged in 1995 after his Parkinson's was diagnosed. Subsequent examinations revealed he had MSA with predominant Parkinsonism. One of his RAF colleagues who did the same work was also diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at a similarly young age. In 2007, when a third RAF painter successfully claimed compensation in Scotland, he started a compensation claim. At a five day hearing in Middlesbrough last month the level of Shaun's exposure to toxins during the first Gulf War was shown to have been between 10 and 20 times the recommended maximum exposure levels. On 5 May 2010, the trial judge found that the toxins Shaun was exposed to, particularly at the dangerously high levels, had caused the majority of the symptoms from which he now suffers.

Blood lead levels tied to nerve disease

A study has strengthened evidence linking long-term lead exposure to the risk of developing the fatal neurological condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. The study found a doubling of blood lead levels led to a near doubling of the chances of developing ALS. Dr Freya Kamel, a staff scientist at the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), said the findings 'tighten up' the evidence that higher lead exposure may contribute to ALS in some people. Scientists believe that ALS arises from a combination of genetic susceptibility and certain environmental exposures, Kamel explained. But exactly what those genes or toxic exposures are remains 'very much up in the air,' she said, adding the best evidence on toxic exposures is, so far, for lead exposure. Blood lead levels are generally thought to reflect recent exposure to the metal. But Kamel said that in people with no obvious source of current lead exposure, stored lead released from the bones may be the main driver of blood lead levels - particularly in older adults, whose bone mass may be breaking down faster. The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that a doubling in the blood lead level was associated with a 1.9 fold increase in the risk of ALS. That was true even when the investigators accounted for markers of bone breakdown - suggesting that it was not the ALS causing the higher lead levels. A November 2009 report from Hazards magazine and Stirling University warned that over 100,000 workers in the UK could be at risk of lead-related occupational disease. It warned that 'tens of thousands of workers are at risk of kidney and heart disease, brain damage, cancer and other serious disorders at the UK's 'safe' workplace lead exposure limit' (Risks 432).

Stress again linked to the recession

Work pressures during the recession have caused a big rise in mental health problems, a mental health charity has said. A survey for Mind suggests that one in 11 British workers has been to their GP for stress and anxiety arising the financial squeeze. And 7 per cent said they were prescribed medicines to help them cope. Mind's survey of 2,050 workers found that about a third were working harder and nearly half worried about the security of their jobs because of the recession. Nine per cent had been to their GP as a direct result of pressure related to the financial squeeze, and 7 per cent were prescribed medicines like anti-depressants to help them cope. One in five said work stress had made them physically ill, and one in four had been reduced to tears at work because of unmanageable pressure. The charity found there was a worsening stress crisis at work. The numbers of people reporting having left a job due to stress rose from 6 per cent in 2004 to 8 per cent in 2009 and those who say they lack support from their managers increased from 8 per cent to 11 per cent. Mind is calling on companies to improve the atmosphere in workplaces and show more understanding about mental health problems. 'Working conditions have been incredibly tough for the last couple of years,' said Mind's chief executive, Paul Farmer. 'It's more important than ever that businesses look at how they can manage stress levels and improve the working environment for all their employees.' Over the next five years Mind's 'Taking care of business' campaign, which has the backing of the TUC and some major UK companies, aims to improve working environments and working lives.

Raleigh fined over worker's death

Bicycle company Raleigh has been fined £72,000 after the death of a forklift truck driver at its Nottingham depot. John Whittington, 59, was hit by a falling girder when part of his forklift truck, which had its forks raised, struck a door frame at the Eastwood site in September 2007. At an earlier hearing at Nottingham Crown Court the firm admitted failing to ensure his health and safety. Raleigh was also ordered to pay £40,000 in court costs. The firm had originally denied a charge of failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees and another of failing to carry out a sufficient risk assessment. But following legal submissions the company changed its pleas to guilty. In sentencing, Judge John Milmo said Raleigh had been prosecuted for its failure to provide a safe workplace and not for causing the death of one of its workers. He added: 'The level of the fine is not intended in any way to be a measure of the value of human life, that would be impossible.' The court heard that Raleigh has introduced a number of safety measures to ensure a similar incident could not happen in future.

Worker crushed in building collapse

Two firms have been fined a total of £7,000 after part of an office block under construction collapsed, seriously injuring one worker. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the building's designer, Peter Wallace of the Wallace Partnership, and the principal contractor, Jack Smith (Builders) Ltd, following the collapse in Kirkham. Blackpool Magistrates' Court heard that emergency services were called to the scene on 14 October 2008. An HSE investigation found that a concrete block pillar, used to support the first and second floors, had been resting on the ground floor instead of going down into the foundations. HSE inspector Allen Shute said: 'One of the worker's legs was badly broken after the rubble fell on him, but the consequences could have been much worse. This was a basic error which should have been spotted by both the building's designer and the principal contractor. It is common sense that the pillar supporting the floors should have gone into the foundations, and not just rested on the floor below.' Both firms pleaded guilty to safety offences. Peter Wallace was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £12,318 costs. Jack Smith (Builders) was fined £3,000 with costs of £12,318.

Firms fined after site fall

Businesses are being urged to take proper precautions when their staff work at height after a West Yorkshire worker sustained serious back injuries when he plunged more than three metres from a terrace retaining wall on a construction site. There were no guardrails in place to prevent Graham Parkin falling from height as he accessed a work area. He suffered a fractured vertebrae and has been left with long-term disability. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) successfully prosecuted Illson (Builders & Contractors) Ltd for a breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 over the incident on 19 November 2008. The company was acting as principal contractor on the construction site. Illson also pleaded guilty to a charge under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM) for failing to notify HSE that construction work was due to take place on site. Kendal Varley Ltd, Mr Parkin's employer, also pleaded guilty to the same CDM charge. Bradford Magistrates Court heard that because both companies were the clients for the work, they should have appointed a Construction Design and Management co-ordinator (CDMc) to notify HSE of the construction work. Illson (Builders & Contractors) Ltd was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,800 for both offences while Kendall Varley Ltd was given a fine of £2,000 and costs of £1,800 for the one offence.

Confectioner fined after 1 tonne blow

A Telford confectionery company has been prosecuted after a worker's head was hit with a one tonne force. Magna Specialist Confectioners Ltd (MSC) was last week fined a total of £75,000 and ordered to pay costs of £37,500 by Shrewsbury Crown Court. The company had previously pleaded guilty on 9 December 2009 at Shrewsbury Crown Court to breaching the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. An earlier prosecution of the company in February 2008, under the same regulation, had led to the company being fined £25,000. The court heard how on 22 February 2007, an employee was attempting to wipe up a leak of refrigerant inside the interlocked safety doors of a machine on the production line. As his head went through the doors into the machine, the powered part of the machinery moved forcefully to one side, closing the gap between it and a static part of the machine to approximately 5cm (2 inches). The impact did not fully trap his head in the gap but threw him out of the machine. He spent two weeks in a coma and serious head injuries have left him with a significant level of blindness and deafness, loss of taste and smell as well as suffering personality changes. Speaking after the case, HSE investigating inspector Guy Dale, said: 'An operative should not have been able to get to the dangerous parts of the machine while it was working at full production speed. When the interlocked doors were opened, the production line should have been designed to stop.' He added: 'The injured man is only in his early 30s and had the promise of a healthy future but now has such permanent damage that his future prospects and employment potential are severely restricted. He has a wife and a young daughter born a few months after the incident occurred. The fine imposed by the Crown Court reflects that there was a previous history cataloguing systemic machinery guarding failures in the company and a lack of risk assessment leaving employees exposed to risk to their health and safety.'

College fined after window cleaner falls

Lincoln College has been fined £1,500 after a window cleaner fell four metres, suffering broken ribs and a serious back injury. James Theaker, 50, from Lincoln, was employed by A Nicoll & Son Ltd, when he was contracted to clean windows at Lincoln College on 4 November 2008. He accessed the roof of the main reception building using a ladder and leaned against the building to clean nearby windows, when he fell. He spent a week in hospital and was forced to stay off work for months. He can now only carry out restricted duties. At Lincoln Magistrates' Court, Lincoln College pleaded guilty to a breach of the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 for failing to conduct a sufficient risk assessment. As well as the fine, the college was ordered to pay £9,500 costs. A Nicoll & Son Ltd was prosecuted in October 2009 by HSE after pleading guilty for its role in the incident and was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay costs of £2,948.20. Following the latest hearing, HSE inspector Judith McNulty-Green said: 'Mr Theaker has suffered life-changing injuries as a result of his fall. Lincoln College had a legal duty to check its contractors had proper procedures in place but failed to do so.' She added: 'Employers and organisations that hire contract staff have a joint responsibility to ensure the safety of all staff who work on site, to avoid serious incidents such as this.'

Widow calls for insurance fix

An asbestos widow has called on the government to help asbestos victims and their families overcome barriers to obtaining compensation. Caroline Squires from Wacton in Norfolk has voiced her support for an Employers' Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB) after her husband, Almer, died from asbestos related cancer mesothelioma. Mr Squires, died in October 2008, aged 66. He was exposed to asbestos whilst working as a management trainee for County Oil Heat Company in Guildford between 1962 and 1964. The company later changed its name to Oilheat Services (Guildford) Limited. The family's attempt to claim compensation is destined to founder because the employer is no longer in business and its insurer cannot be traced. As many as one in 10 asbestos victims are unable to trace their employer's insurer and are left with nothing. Mrs Squires has joined with asbestos campaigners and unions in calling for the government to set up an Employers' Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB). An ELIB would act as a fund of last resort to compensate injured workers where the employer has ceased trading and the insurer cannot be found. Joanne Carlin from the Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team said: 'Mrs Squires' predicament is common because many of the employers who negligently exposed their workers to asbestos have ceased trading and records of their insurers have been lost or destroyed. An ELIB is the only answer to ensure that innocent victims like Mr Squires and his family receive the compensation they are entitled to.'

International News

China: Electronics giant faces suicide controversy

Foxconn Technology, the giant contractor that manufacturers the iPhone and other brand name consumer electronics, has defended its employment standards after the suicide death of an eighth worker. 'We regret to see the recurrence of such incidents,' Foxconn said in statement that came a day after a 24-year-old Foxconn factory worker surnamed Chu killed herself by jumping from her rented apartment in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. The company has attracted wide attention from the Chinese media following a spate of suicides among young Chinese working at its mammoth Shenzhen factory complex, where some 300,000 are employed (Risks 452). The latest suicide came days after a 24-year-old male factory worker surnamed Lu killed himself by jumping from a building inside the complex. The most notorious Foxconn suicide came in July 2009 when 25-year-old Sun Danyong jumped from his high-rise apartment after being interrogated over a missing iPhone prototype. Foxconn makes products for leading Western companies including the Mac mini, the iPod, the iPad, and the iPhone for Apple, Intel-branded motherboards for Intel Corp and motherboards for UK computer manufacturer Zoostorm.

France: Employer liable for bitumen cancer

French road building firm Eurovia has been found liable for the death of a worker from a bitumen-related cancer. The decision of the Bourg-en-Bresse social security court on 10 May 2010 came after the firm, a subsidiary of global building and civil engineering giant Vinci, was accused of 'gross negligence' by the family of a bitumen worker who died of skin cancer in 2008. The court found that being splashed by or inhaling bitumen fumes combined with UV exposure from sunlight had a synergistic effect which could magnify the risk from both. In France, 4,200 workers are thought to have direct exposure to bitumen fumes for 1,000 or more hours a year. The French research agency AFSSET is to conduct a review of the occupational risks linked to the use of bitumen at work.

USA: Nurses rally for safe staffing

Some 1,000 registered nurses from around the US rallied on Capitol Hill, Washington DC, on 12 May to show their strong support for legislation to establish minimum nurse-to-patient ratios for all hospitals in the country. The bill is modelled after a California state law that sets minimum ratios. Brandishing signs that read 'I'm A Patient Advocate,' 'Safe Patient Ratios Save Lives' and 'Safe Lift Now,' members of National Nurses United (NNU), made the case that the care they are able to give their patients is being hampered by long working hours and cutbacks. Saying there is an 'orchestrated campaign across the country by employers to lower nurses' standards in their contracts,' NNU executive director Rose Ann DeMoro said: 'We need to tell employers it's a new day in America and registered nurses are going to stand up and not take it anymore.' US Labor secretary Hilda Solis told the union's legislative conference that on average, 14 people a day die at work, and more than 4 million are seriously injured. 'Most of those fatalities and injuries are easily prevented,' she said. 'This can no longer go on. We have to stop the madness.' She told the nurses her department is working on new standards that will protect nurses, including one on infectious diseases.

USA: Obama to set up oil spill commission

US President Barack Obama has vowed to end the 'cosy relationship' between oil companies and US regulators in the light of the Gulf of Mexico disaster. He also condemned 'the ridiculous spectacle' of oil executives 'falling over each other to point the finger of blame.' Federal regulators had, he said, sometimes approved drilling plans based on the oil companies' promises to use safe practices. The rule from now on, the president said, would be 'trust but verify.' Eleven workers died when an explosion destroyed Tranocean's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on 20 April. The rig was operated on behalf of London-based multinational BP. White House officials have indicated the president will set up a commission to investigate the disaster. They say the panel will also examine industry practices and the government's role in an incident that has seen oil spewing into the Gulf since the rig exploded. Mr Obama would establish a presidential commission by executive order, White House officials said. The officials, who spoke to journalists on condition of anonymity, said the commission would be similar to panels created to investigate the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979. It would also study oil industry practices, rig safety, regulation and governmental oversight, including the functions of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) - the agency responsible for regulating offshore oil drilling, but which is also responsible for administering oil leases and with that government revenue from oil. A congressional hearing last week was told BP was aware of equipment problems aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig hours before the explosion. The House of Representatives' energy and commerce committee said documents and company briefings suggested that well owner BP, rig owner Transocean and Halliburton, which made the cement casing for the well, ignored tests in the hours before the explosion that indicated faulty safety equipment. The disaster has placed further scrutiny on BP's safety record. A Center for Public Integrity analysis found refineries owned by the oil giant account for 97 per cent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by OSHA safety inspectors over the past three years.


Fighting for your life

Hazards magazine is pressing head with its campaign to defend workplace safety from a retreat from regulation and enforcement. In the new issue, out this month, it warns that far from being over-regulated, UK workplaces have seen a devastating reduction in the level of safety cover provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It also highlights how unions, through activities from training to industrial action, are your best guarantee of safety at work. And in a pointed reminder to the Conservatives and the Lib Dems - both of whom have called recently for deregulation - a stark poster warns: 'We didn't vote to die at work'. This 'fighting for your life' edition of Hazards is intended to provide unions and campaigners with the ammunition they need to defend workplace health and safety standards.

Events and Courses

European conference, 10-12 September, Leeds

The 12th bi-annual European Work Hazards Conference is to be held in Leeds from 10 to 12 September 2010. This year's conference, hosted by the UK Hazards Campaign, 'will give hazards activists the chance to meet and work with activists from throughout Europe and other parts of the world', say the organisers. They add that it will explore the impact of the global recession on work environments and occupational health and safety. The event is organised by the European Work Hazards Network, which brings together workers, trade union health and safety representatives, campaigners, academics, scientists and occupational safety and health professionals.

TUC courses for safety reps


Useful Links

  • Visit the TUC www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s website pages on health and safety. See what's on offer from TUC Publications and What's On in health and safety.
  • Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
  • What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
  • HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995
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